The big food story of last week was the launch of the My Food Bag food delivery service. I did not realise quite how big it was as I was in Sydney for the early part of the week. (The biggest food story there was whether or not the meatballs at IKEA contain horse meat. I can report from the front lines that IKEA promise their meatballs in Australia contain nothing but Australian meat. I can also report they contain not a lot of taste, but I don't think that is news to anyone).
I was offered the opportunity to try the My Food Bag service during its first week by the PR company, Pead PR. I thought that would be very interesting, although I felt slightly less special when I discovered that every food writer I know, plus every radio DJ, TV presenter, and a whole lot of bloggers and tweeters I'd never heard of were also on the PR schedule. By later in the week it occured to me that if you were in any way involved in food media and hadn't been sent a Food Bag, you'd be feeling pretty left out.
Anyway. There has been much chatter online and on air about how this has been done.
Radio NZ devoted a large part of their Media Watch show on it on Sunday.
The general commentary seems to be that the media has behaved unethically by commenting on social media and on other media about the product when they've been given the service to try for free.
For the record, I was not asked to tweet, Facebook post or otherwise cover the launch of My Food Bag. I've been asked to do that in the past for other products, which I have politely declined to do. I've seen it reported that other media were asked to tweet with a specific hashtag - I was not. Perhaps they knew my thoughts on such things.
For sure though, there has been some pretty gushy and indiscriminate coverage of My Food Bag around the place. I think the NZ Herald's Bite section possibly needs to give it a rest after two weeks' worth of pretty full-on mentions and My Food Bag recipes from Nadia.
But in general, this is nothing new. PR companies send out free products all the time. It's how things get featured in magazine pages and on websites. If I can't try a product, I can't consider it for my pages. By far the majority of what is sent to me does not make it into the magazine. Some of it doesn't meet our nutrition criteria; some of it doesn't taste very good. it only gets in if we have tried it and genuinely liked it. No one can buy their way in to our editorial pages.
You should see the corner of my office where all the PR stuff gets put - every six weeks or so I have to open an office 'free store' to get rid of the excess. I hear beauty editors on womens' magazines have amazing treasure troves of product in their cupboards. How do we think all those 'what's new in lipsticks/foundation/eyeshadow' features get put together? This is how PR works.
So I think what's happened with My Food Bag is not underhanded, it's just really effective PR. If I was the My Food Bag team, I'd be saying a big Thank You to Pead PR, because they have done a great job of giving a new company a really good start.
Tomorrow: what I thought of the food!
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